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512 megabit PRAM cell
Bigger, better, faster

Samsung today announced that it has introduced a new type of nonvolatile memory called PRAM or Phase-change Random Access Memory. The new memory technology is currently under heavy research from Samsung, but the company has finally demonstrated a working 512 megabit sample. According to Samsung, PRAM is slated to replace current NOR flash memory technology within the next several years.

PRAM, says Samsung, is much faster than the fastest NOR flash memory. Samsung indicated that PRAM achieves its performance by changing the way it writes and reads to memory. Unlike current NOR flash, PRAM does not have to erase data before writing new data. This alone achieves 30 times the performance of current memory technology said Samsung. Durability and endurance are also a key development for PRAM, allowing products to last at least 10 times longer.

Samsung indicated that PRAM will be a positive forward step for consumer products as well -- lowering prices thanks to new manufacturing techniques. Samsung said that PRAM cells are half the size of NOR flash memory and requires 20 percent fewer manufacturing steps to produce. PRAM will make an introduction into the market sometime in early 2008. According to the press release:

Adoption of PRAM is expected to be especially popular in the future designs of multi-function handsets and for other mobile applications, where faster speeds translate into immediately noticeable boosts in performance. High-density versions will be produced first, starting with 512 Mb.

Flash memory in general has exploded in the last two years. The market has grown significantly and companies are continuing to invest heavily into flash RAM development and manufacturing. Recently, SanDisk announced that it would acquire M-Systems for $1.35 billion, bolstering its market position significantly. Intel and Micron have also joined forces to produce volumes of NAND flash memory. In July, both SanDisk and Toshiba announced plans to invest a total of $8.2 billion in building new manufacturing facilities.

Flash memory is expected to scale well past 2010, with high density products on the way. Samsung indicated that 64GB memory cards are already in sight and larger capacities are just over the horizon. Consumer multimedia products aren't the only devices using flash memory however -- Intel is gearing up to introduce a new desktop platform called Robson next year that will utilize flash memory to store parts or all of an operating system to boost performance.

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When they will replace current HDDs
By KHysiek on 9/11/2006 3:57:04 PM , Rating: 2
Then we will see some real revolution in PCs. Unitl then it will give just a bit bigger and faster pendrives and flash memories. Not a huge gain but welcomed for sure :).

RE: When they will replace current HDDs
By Doormat on 9/11/2006 4:21:22 PM , Rating: 2
Unlikely, at least for now.

Even in 5 years you'll see 200GB flash drives based on PRAM or MRAM (magnetic RAM - IBM's advancement in the field). But your HD will be like 5-10TB. So there still will be a huge difference.

The other issue is write cycles - how many times can PRAM be overwritten and still remember what it was set to.

RE: When they will replace current HDDs
By ahkey on 9/11/2006 6:27:15 PM , Rating: 2
But your HD will be like 5-10TB

An interesting statement, to say the least. Can we really as consumers expect to need more than 5TB; do we really have that much HD footage? Isn't it about time we devised better ways of dealing with the space we have, in particular with regard to defragmentation and formatting?

I tend to think of my music/video collection as slightly over average (perhaps not by American standards) and I'm nowhere near the 200gb mark out of the 234gb total available to me. Large drives are great for servers and media buffs, but isn't it about time the most limiting factor in PC performance is addressed? I'm fully subscribed to WD's Raptor, owning a 2nd gen and wishing I had enough for a 3rd; despite their speed advantage however, they are small, noisy and terrible value for money.

Let's hope this PRAM can be pushed a little further.

RE: When they will replace current HDDs
By PrinceGaz on 9/11/2006 8:45:36 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps it's because I tend to download stuff using a P2P client, but I can assure you that it is easy to fill a 250GB hard-drive. In fact my main problem is finding the time to free up space on it so I can get more stuff.

I'd be in the same situation with a 500GB drive, or a 1TB drive in a couple of years, etc. As broadband speeds rise and the files distributed also grow in size (thanks to HD formats and the like), no matter how large my hard-drives are, they will always be nearly full.

By GoatMonkey on 9/12/2006 8:19:10 AM , Rating: 2
I'm betting that you will both get what you're looking for. Hybrid drives are on their way. This memory looks useful as a combined hybrid/ram drive that Microsoft has been pushing for use with Vista.

By AncientPC on 9/12/2006 11:04:45 AM , Rating: 2
I said the same thing when a friend of mine bought the first 1GB drives when they were released. I was still playing Doom2 which only took up ~27MB and couldn't fathom filling up a 1GB drive. Now I'm up to 1TB and still out of space, forcing me to burn everything onto DVDs but like you said I'm a media buff.

PRAM can still be used in hybrid drives or perhaps in smaller drives for OS / cache / programs, but that doesn't mean that we won't need more space.

By jak3676 on 9/12/2006 12:06:27 PM , Rating: 2
Can we really as consumers expect to need more than 5TB; do we really have that much HD footage?

Well, I'm sure there will be more to worry about than just HD footage in the future. Someone is always developing a bigger/better/more memory intensive way of storing media. Even before the days of magnetic recording this was true - think 33RPM records vs. 78 RPM. I'm sure when we have have the space and processing power to handle more complicated encoding and storage, a new standard will come around - maybe 3D imaging in high def?

I can remeber back to the days of 4-8 MB hard drives when people said we'd never use that much space. The same was said when we went over the 100MB limit, then the 1GB limit, now the 1TB limit is pretty easily reached and filled.

Besides don't a lot of software companies start their project by assuming an infinate amount of processing power and storage *cough, *cough *Microsoft*. (sorry couldn't resist an unnecessary slam)

If they build it we will buy it, use it, then demand bigger.

By Viditor on 9/12/2006 10:03:20 PM , Rating: 2
Can we really as consumers expect to need more than 5TB; do we really have that much HD footage?

It sounds like an astronomical amount, but it's around 600-700 DVDs. If you figure 6 DVDs per season for things like a TV series, then 5TB actually seems reasonable. This is especially true as these series are becoming more available for download on the net (allowing people to build their own libraries).
While saving to disk is a more common option, having instant access to them with your HTPC is very attractive...

it's beautiful
By S3anister on 9/11/2006 2:14:31 PM , Rating: 2
I can't wait until I can get one of those 64GB models. Phase change is going to be awesome.

RE: it's beautiful
By Master Kenobi on 9/11/2006 2:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
Should be interesting to see the developments in the coming years for this market sector.

RE: it's beautiful
By jskirwin on 9/11/2006 2:43:43 PM , Rating: 2
Are you talking about the new comments color scheme or the PRAM? ;)

64 Gig. Wow. I saw that card mockup and yes, it did strike me as beautiful.

RE: it's beautiful
By fic2 on 9/11/2006 4:06:12 PM , Rating: 3
If you really can't wait you can buy a 64G flash drive now:

RE: it's beautiful
By S3anister on 9/11/2006 6:40:31 PM , Rating: 2
by fic2 on September 11, 2006 at 4:06 PM

If you really can't wait you can buy a 64G flash drive now:

Yeah... I can't wait for the ones that DON'T cost upwards at $2,000.

So when they come down, i'll hop on one, then i'll be happy :)

RE: it's beautiful
By Soviet Robot on 9/12/2006 1:48:07 AM , Rating: 3
Imagine writing 64gigs at 1MB/s....
It will only take you 18+ hours.

phase change?
By Missing Ghost on 9/11/2006 4:50:52 PM , Rating: 3
Does that mean it cools itself while it functions too?

RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 7:00:02 PM , Rating: 2
No, but that was the first thing I thought of when I saw the title: superfast ram modules with a giant cascade cooler on it. :O

Seriously, though, what does that mean, "phase change" ram (er, not RAM I guess - EEPROM? flash?)? Does it have a microdrop of water that it switches between a gas and a liquid somehow? So, is there a required temperature operating range? Does it lose its data if the temperature drops below freezing?

Some questions to think about... I guess I should read up! :P

Oh, also, this technically wouldn't be RAM if it is intended as a replacement for flash as RAM loses its information when power is removed. Like I said, it would be flash or EEPROM or some such thing.

RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 7:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
Oh... apparently it uses chalcogenide glass, which switches between an amorphous solid and crystalline structure with heat application and has been around for 10 years now (via Wikipedia). They also call it RAM, though, which is a misnomer, I believe.

I still see a potential data loss/corruption issue, though; what if you leave it out in the sun and all your data bits flip to ones?

RE: phase change?
By JB1592 on 9/11/2006 7:41:07 PM , Rating: 4
No, they have it correct. The idea that RAM is synonymous with system memory is incorrect.

RAM = Random Access Memory. As opposed to sequential access memory, such as a tape drives, where the entire memory medium must be read (or at least cycled) through in order to get to a piece of data, RAM can "randomly" access any piece of data given it's memory address.

ROM = Read only memory. EEPROM barely qualifies as ROM, and only because it can only be written to in special cases (using a BIOS flash utility for example). Traditional ROM chips can not be rewritten once they are programmed. Most types of ROM (all of them that I can think of actually) also allow random access which would more precisely make them "Read Only RAM."

This memory can be read from, and written to, and it can be accessed directly by memory address. Ergo, it is a form of RAM.

The loss of data on power down is not a feature of RAM, it is a feature of "volatile" memory technologies. The DRAM (Dynamic RAM) variants (SDRAM, DDR-SDRAM, etc.) that we have always traditionally used for system memory is a volatile memory technology, as well as a random access memory technology.

Think DVD types. DVD-ROM cannot be rewritten. DVD-RAM can be rewritten. Neither type loses data without power.

RE: phase change?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 9:53:33 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, volatile is the key. Thanks.

Yeah but...
By Enoch2001 on 9/11/2006 4:11:08 PM , Rating: 2
I'll probably need the GNP of a small country to afford one of these modules!

RE: Yeah but...
By quiksilv3r on 9/11/2006 5:21:27 PM , Rating: 2
Cost production is lower than NOR...prices will be lower as well...

RE: Yeah but...
By Clauzii on 9/11/2006 7:23:49 PM , Rating: 2
The first modules WILL be at astronomic figures though.

RE: Yeah but...
By GoodRevrnd on 9/12/2006 4:44:35 AM , Rating: 2
Definitely. And you figure a 20% production process reduction will only give you significant savings (to consumers anyway) when the total production is equal to that of currently available Flash memory.

RE: Yeah but...
By yacoub on 9/12/2006 9:05:58 AM , Rating: 2
[i]prices will be lower as well...[/i]
Not if marketing has its way. New is never cheaper, even when it's cheaper to produce. See CDs versus cassettes and the promises made about how CDs would be sooo much cheaper yet they never were. Then DVDs. Yeah.

Transfer Rates Better be Good
By Assimilator87 on 9/11/2006 3:29:39 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully the transfer rates will be competitive with a lower end hard drive. I quickly looked over a flash drive roundup and current transfer rates are horrible.

RE: Transfer Rates Better be Good
By Clauzii on 9/11/2006 7:22:50 PM , Rating: 2
But as suggested in the article about 64GB cards, a RAID system could be made :)

TOTALLY SILENT 250 GBs using 4 cards in RAID0 - got to love that :)

RE: Transfer Rates Better be Good
By Clauzii on 9/11/2006 7:26:05 PM , Rating: 2
Btw. 30 times the current speed is quite fast :)

By ChronoReverse on 9/12/2006 12:27:22 AM , Rating: 2
My 512MB thumbdrive can do 5MB/s sustained transfer rates. 30 times that is 150MB/S. I think that's far faster than any magnetic disk drive at the moment.

By kyleporambo on 9/12/2006 3:05:47 AM , Rating: 2
Would anyone believe that my nickname is p-ram?

RE: ....
By GoodRevrnd on 9/12/2006 4:43:00 AM , Rating: 2
Uh oh... better sue Samsung for using your likeness.

Ideal for Hybrid HDD
By George Powell on 9/12/2006 6:30:58 AM , Rating: 2
I would have thought a technology such as this would compliment Hybrid Hard Disks.
A significant buffer of a couple of dozen gigabytes runnning at high speed with a huge perpendicular magnetic drive giving a vast amount of storage. Think one drive would be all you'd ever need. Till the vista replacement comes out of course.

RE: Ideal for Hybrid HDD
By Clauzii on 9/22/2006 4:25:48 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed, indeed :)

No Good !
By shady3005 on 9/11/06, Rating: -1
RE: No Good !
By Tyler 86 on 9/11/2006 4:02:07 PM , Rating: 2
Hah ! its no good .. all the pins are shorted .. how is it supposed to work then ?

Congrats, you've become a candidate for Mr. T's new TV show, "Pity the Fool".
It works when it gets soldered in.

RE: No Good !
By bobsmith1492 on 9/11/2006 7:06:27 PM , Rating: 2
No, he is right... they must cut that connecting bar off before doing anything with it. At any rate, it's only a computer-generated rendering, so... whatever.

RE: No Good !
By Tyler 86 on 9/12/2006 12:39:55 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, the EXIF information in the image shows it was taken by a "Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II" on September the 6th, 2006 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second, without flash.

This indicates it was simply taken by a professional photographer in a professional setting. Non-JPEG attributable 'scuff mark' artifacts in the image are also present, possibly being created during assembly.

That connecting bar doesn't exist once it's soldered into place, granted, but it doesn't just get 'cut' off, and it's no computer generated rendering.

It might be a non-functioning 'press prototype', but there's no evidence to support that.

RE: No Good !
By Clauzii on 9/11/2006 7:20:16 PM , Rating: 1
One word - Sarcasm :)

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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